Short-rotation woody crops (SRWC) such as poplar and willow are an important source of renewable energy. They can be converted into electricity and/or heat using conventional or modern biomass technologies. In recent years many studies have examined the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of bioenergy production from poplar and willow using various approaches. The outcomes of these studies have, however, generated controversy among scientists, policy makers, and the society. This paper reviews 26 studies on energy and GHG balance of bioenergy production from poplar and willow published between 1990 and 2009. The data published in the reviewed literature gave energy ratios (ER) between 13 and 79 for the cradle-to-farm gate and between 3 and 16 for cradle-to-plant assessments, whereas the intensity of GHG emissions ranged from 0.6 to 10.6 g CO2 Eq MJbiomass−1 and 39 to 132 g CO2 Eq kWh−1. These values vary substantially among the reviewed studies depending on the system boundaries and methodological assumptions. The lack of transparency hampers meaningful comparisons among studies. Although specific numerical results differ, our review revealed a general consensus on two points: SRWC yielded 14.1–85.9 times more energy than coal (ERcoal∼0.9) per unit of fossil energy input, and GHG emissions were 9–161 times lower than those of coal (GHGcoal∼96.8). To help to reduce the substantial variability in results, this review suggests a standardization of the assumptions about methodological issues. Likewise, the development of a widely accepted framework toward a reliable analysis of energy in bioenergy production systems is most needed.

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